Photo essay

Photos: Why bull owners and tamers take part in jallikattu, despite the injuries and deaths

The limitations in regulating the sport are apparent.

Alanganallur and Palmedu in Madurai district braced for grand celebrations. It had been nearly three weeks since the Tamil Nadu government had promulgated an ordinance resuming jallikattu, and the two villages that became popular over the years for hosting the bull-taming sport were thrilled. People had arrived from afar to take part in the event – bull owners participating in these villages are as commended as the players.

The media were there too, despite the unpacking political fracas in Chennai, to make sure that they covered the action. Space at the makeshift galleries was insubstantial, and very often, locals lost out to the droves of outsiders in the jostle for the best seats in the stands.

Aware of the watchful eye of animal rights groups, the organisers had made conscious efforts to ensure the safety of the animals and players. And yet, the expected happened: at least 100 players out of the 1,500 who participated were injured, some seriously. A few bulls, terrified after the game, ran into the nearby fields to escape the crowds.

Jallikattu at Alanganallur and Palmedu on February 9 and 10 showed the limitations in regulating the traditional sport, despite all the promises.

At least seven people – bystanders and participants – have died after being knocked down by bulls since the state government overturned the two-year ban on jallikattu on January 21. On February 15, for instance, at least 34 persons were injured in Pugaiyilaipatti village, where the main road was converted into an arena that was not fenced properly, reported The Hindu. Just a day earlier, on February 14, thirteen spectators were injured in Thanjavur district at the jallikattu event, including the Deputy Director of Health. The toll wasn’t restricted to the humans. Three of the bulls used in the event fell into an open well after being let loose – one of them died.

Over the coming few months, across the southern and southwestern regions of Tamil Nadu, jallikattu arenas will spring up in several villages. And it is likely that in the boisterous celebrations, the disturbing news of injuries and deaths will get little notice.

A bull succeeds in running past the players at Alanganallur. In the game of jallikattu, a bull is released from into a playing arena, and the player is supposed to hold onto its hump for a predetermined distance to win the game. If the bull manages to run past all the players, the bull wins and its owner get the prize.
A bull succeeds in running past the players at Alanganallur. In the game of jallikattu, a bull is released from into a playing arena, and the player is supposed to hold onto its hump for a predetermined distance to win the game. If the bull manages to run past all the players, the bull wins and its owner get the prize.
Thousands of people from across the state and some international tourists fight for space at the makeshift galleries, as the police control the crowds to avoid a stampede.
Thousands of people from across the state and some international tourists fight for space at the makeshift galleries, as the police control the crowds to avoid a stampede.
A veterinary doctor inspects a bull’s teeth to make sure it is not too young for the sport. Jallikattu has evolved over time to incorporate several regulations and checks: all the bulls must undergo health checkups to ensure that they aren’t injured, tortured or fed alcohol to make them fierce (an allegation made by animal rights activists).
A veterinary doctor inspects a bull’s teeth to make sure it is not too young for the sport. Jallikattu has evolved over time to incorporate several regulations and checks: all the bulls must undergo health checkups to ensure that they aren’t injured, tortured or fed alcohol to make them fierce (an allegation made by animal rights activists).
A bull is surrounded by waiting players. For the players, it is ideal when a bull doesn’t ride past them immediately but instead stays in the arena for a while. This is the time when they can catch it from behind. After a game is decided, the owner of the bull must take it away from the ground.
A bull is surrounded by waiting players. For the players, it is ideal when a bull doesn’t ride past them immediately but instead stays in the arena for a while. This is the time when they can catch it from behind. After a game is decided, the owner of the bull must take it away from the ground.
A player undergoes an alcohol test at a primary health centre, close to the jallikattu venue at Alanganallur. Strict guidelines, mandating alcohol tests and weight checks, were introduced after allegations were made that players came to the arena inebriated.
A player undergoes an alcohol test at a primary health centre, close to the jallikattu venue at Alanganallur. Strict guidelines, mandating alcohol tests and weight checks, were introduced after allegations were made that players came to the arena inebriated.
An LED television is given as a prize at Alanganallur. As the sport has grown over the years, so have the prizes – organisers now tap sponsors to arrange expensive prizes, including sometimes cars and bikes, for the winning bull tamers.
An LED television is given as a prize at Alanganallur. As the sport has grown over the years, so have the prizes – organisers now tap sponsors to arrange expensive prizes, including sometimes cars and bikes, for the winning bull tamers.
An ambulance rushes from the ground at Alganallur, carrying an injured player. Anticipating possible casualties, ambulances and a number of medical teams are stationed at the arenas.
An ambulance rushes from the ground at Alganallur, carrying an injured player. Anticipating possible casualties, ambulances and a number of medical teams are stationed at the arenas.
An owner feeds his bull a banana as they wait in scorching sun to take part in the sport. For many owners across Tamil Nadu, taking part in jallikattu at Alanganallur and Palmedu is a matter of prestige.
An owner feeds his bull a banana as they wait in scorching sun to take part in the sport. For many owners across Tamil Nadu, taking part in jallikattu at Alanganallur and Palmedu is a matter of prestige.
A bull crosses the Vadi Vasal (the gateway to the arena) as the tamers wait on the other side. Around 1,000 bulls participated each at Alanganallur and Palmedu.
A bull crosses the Vadi Vasal (the gateway to the arena) as the tamers wait on the other side. Around 1,000 bulls participated each at Alanganallur and Palmedu.
There are several rules in the sport – tamers are not allowed to hold onto the horns and multiple players cannot attempt to tame one bull – and if they are flouted, the bull wins the game. Yet, desperate participants often play as they wish.
There are several rules in the sport – tamers are not allowed to hold onto the horns and multiple players cannot attempt to tame one bull – and if they are flouted, the bull wins the game. Yet, desperate participants often play as they wish.
As thousands throng the village, many station themselves on rooftops of nearby buildings to get a view of the arena. Those who are left out of even these spaces wait along the route through which a bull passes after a game.
As thousands throng the village, many station themselves on rooftops of nearby buildings to get a view of the arena. Those who are left out of even these spaces wait along the route through which a bull passes after a game.
A player leaps out of the way the approaching bull as another tries to hold onto the hump. Around 100 to 150 players are allowed into the playing arena at a time.
A player leaps out of the way the approaching bull as another tries to hold onto the hump. Around 100 to 150 players are allowed into the playing arena at a time.
Two owners return home, carrying the gifts earned by their bulls. Rearing bulls is not cheap: some bulls come at a price of Rs 1 lakh and looking after them can cost Rs 300 a day. For most owners, therefore, Jallikattu is a loss-making affair. Yet, they participate because of their love for the sport and for the honour of being called a Jallikattu bull owner.
Two owners return home, carrying the gifts earned by their bulls. Rearing bulls is not cheap: some bulls come at a price of Rs 1 lakh and looking after them can cost Rs 300 a day. For most owners, therefore, Jallikattu is a loss-making affair. Yet, they participate because of their love for the sport and for the honour of being called a Jallikattu bull owner.

All photographs courtesy Shawn Sebastian.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Children's Day is not for children alone

It’s also a time for adults to revisit their childhood.

Most adults look at childhood wistfully, as a time when the biggest worry was a scraped knee, every adult was a source of chocolate and every fight lasted only till the next playtime. Since time immemorial, children seem to have nailed the art of being joyful, and adults can learn a thing or two about stress-free living from them. Now it’s that time of the year again when children are celebrated for...simply being children, and let it serve as a timely reminder for adults to board that imaginary time machine and revisit their childhood. If you’re unable to unbuckle yourself from your adult seat, here is some inspiration.

Start small, by doodling at the back page of your to-do diary as a throwback to that ancient school tradition. If you’re more confident, you could even start your own comic strip featuring people in your lives. You can caricaturise them or attribute them animal personalities for the sake of humour. Stuck in a boring meeting? Draw your boss with mouse ears or your coffee with radioactive powers. Just make sure you give your colleagues aliases.

Pull a prank, those not resulting in revenue losses of course. Prank calls, creeping up behind someone…pull them out from your memory and watch as everyone has a good laugh. Dress up a little quirky for work. It’s time you tried those colourful ties, or tastefully mismatched socks. Dress as your favourite cartoon characters someday – it’s as easy as choosing a ponytail-style, drawing a scar on your forehead or converting a bath towel into a cape. Even dinner can be full of childish fun. No, you don’t have to eat spinach if you don’t like it. Use the available cutlery and bust out your favourite tunes. Spoons and forks are good enough for any beat and for the rest, count on your voice to belt out any pitch. Better yet, stream the classic cartoons of your childhood instead of binge watching drama or news; they seem even funnier as an adult. If you prefer reading before bedtime, do a reread of your favourite childhood book(s). You’ll be surprised by their timeless wisdom.

A regular day has scope for childhood indulgences in every nook and cranny. While walking down a lane, challenge your friend to a non-stop game of hopscotch till the end of the tiled footpath. If you’re of a petite frame, insist on a ride in the trolley as you about picking items in the supermarket. Challenge your fellow gym goers and trainers to a hula hoop routine, and beat ‘em to it!

Children have an incredible ability to be completely immersed in the moment during play, and acting like one benefits adults too. Just count the moments of precious laughter you will have added to your day in the process. So, take time to indulge yourself and celebrate life with child-like abandon, as the video below shows.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of SBI Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.